What's an LCAP?

by Jeff Camp | March 31, 2022 | 5 Comments
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Your chance to tell the district what you think

Who holds the most power in the education system? It's complicated, of course, but practically speaking the best single answer is the school district.

Use our Ed100 / PTA LCAP Checklist

District administrators hire faculty and staff. They make choices as they implement policies set by the school board, the state, the federal government, and health authorities. Districts manage money and property. Districts negotiate with unions. They respond when there is a crisis, interacting with local agencies, health officials and law enforcement. They manage public communication with families and the public.

Districts also plan.

Every year, school districts in California are required to prepare a three-year public plan known as an LCAP (pronounced EL-cap). The LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) officially defines the district's goals and priorities. Work that is measurably specified in the LCAP is an official priority. Anything not included in the LCAP is apt to be overlooked. Like the budget, the LCAP is an expression of values.

As part of the budget process, the LCAP must be approved by both the district board of education and the county board of education, theoretically through a process of public review and comment. Which all sounds great — but there's a problem. In the service of precision, LCAPs often smack of intimidating legalese and edu-jargon. Because they are long and little-read, they are marbled with acronyms and abbreviations. They don't look like something written for regular people to read and understand. Some school districts hold events to explain their LCAP documents. Many don't. This post helps explain the key elements of the LCAP, why they matter, and how to learn about them.

Together with the California State PTA, we have developed a checklist you can use to weigh your priorities and figure out whether the things that matter to you are included in your district's plan. By presenting your input in a way that harmonizes with the structure of the LCAP, you make it easier for the school district to turn your priorities into plans and actions. The checklist is meant to be used as a template — create your own copy and make it yours!

What is an "LCAP"?

The LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) is a three-year plan, updated annually, that describes what the district plans to do to support student outcomes. It's a document with a required structure built around ten priority areas, as reflected in the diagram below. Your district's LCAP must include information about how it serves students with different backgrounds, particularly those living in poverty, foster youth, and students who are learning English.

Why is the LCAP required?

The LCAP is specifically a California thing. Other states don't use it.

California's main education finance law is known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). This policy allocates base funding to districts based on the number of students in attendance. Districts receive extra money per student to invest in the education of English language learners, foster youth and children living in poverty.

Districts have considerable flexibility about how to use the money they get. In exchange for this flexibility they are obligated to be transparent about how they spend the money, and on which students. The LCAP is the key instrument for districts to deliver this transparency. The State Board of Education provides districts with a template, organized into priority areas, that districts are expected to use or adapt. The LCFF-LCAP system, passed into law in 2014, was a major legislative achievement of the Brown Administration.

Holding school districts accountable

The most heroic assumption about the LCAP is that community members actually read the darn thing. Another brave leap is to believe that community members will use it to hold their schools accountable for results, and for using the extra money as intended.

Somebody in your school’s parent community needs to be the one to drive a conversation about the LCAP. It’s you, right? Be honest.

When the LCAP was originally created in 2014, we paired up with California State PTA to help parents get prepared for it. The result, the LCAP Parent Checklist, has been updated ever since to reflect changes. The checklist describes each section of the LCAP and explains background information you need to provide informed and thoughtful input. The checklist links directly to Ed100 lessons on all the state priorities. Here is a peek at what it looks like before you start filling it in:

Community Engagement

The LCAP process is an opportunity to let the district know what is important to you and your school. The LCAP requires school districts to consult with the District Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) and English Learner Parent Advisory Committees (DLAC) as well as parents, students, school personnel, local bargaining units, and the community. School Site councils and site based student and parent groups (PTSAs) need to understand how their work fits with the district's LCAP, too. Districts will put together a schedule (example) that includes when they will consult with the school community.

Questions to Ask at LCAP Community Meetings

What are the district's top priorities?

How much progress was made last year toward meeting those goals?

What are the greatest needs?

Where are the gaps in student performance? Are they getting better or worse, and why?

How is the district delivering services for low-income students, English learners and foster youth? (Under LCFF, your district receives specific funding that should used in direct support of these students — it is the community's job to notice if this isn't happening.)

Did the district use all of the money in its plan last year or are there some areas where money was not spent?

If the plan is not working, what changes are being considered?

When must the district's LCAP be completed?

Your district is required to adopt its LCAP as part of its annual budget process, which must be done by the end of June.

Who actually writes the LCAP document?

The LCAP is officially completed by school district staff. Sometimes school districts get help from consultants, or from the staff of their county office of education.

Who is responsible for approving the LCAP?

Your district's LCAP will be complete when your school board votes to adopt it. If you think something is wrong with your district's plan, this will be your last opportunity for influence each year. Your county office of education is then responsible for reviewing your district's plan and either approving it or suggesting revisions. County offices in turn have their own LCAPs reviewed by the California Department of Education.

Do schools produce an LCAP?

Not unless they are charter schools. The LCAP is required for districts, charter schools, and county offices of education. (Technically, all of these entities are Local Education Agencies.) Charter schools must prepare an LCAP because they operate separately from a school district. Ordinary public schools don’t have to file an LCAP. However, the LCAP development process is meant to inspire useful conversation and reflection at the school level, too.

Where can I find examples of LCAP documents?

Districts are required to post their LCAP documents online… somewhere… but not required to post them anywhere in particular. An official collection site for LCAP data exists, posted by the State Department of Education. It is largely unused, which underscores the reality: these are local accountability reports. There is no mandate to collect them, compare them, or learn from them. No one "upstairs" is collecting, comparing, and analyzing this stuff.

What's the next step?

OK, now that you have the background, time to get to work. Somebody in your school's parent community needs to be the one to drive a conversation about the LCAP. It's you, right? Be honest.

Not to worry - you don't have to do it alone. Use the LCAP Checklist template to collect the information you need and work collaboratively with other parent leaders. The whole thing is set up in Google Docs, so it's easy to share.

One last item, just for fun...

When LCFF and the LCAP were first developed, Jeff felt inspired to write a song about it. It's a little dated now, but still good edugeeky fun. Read the lyrics.

Updated September 2017
October 2019
May 2021
April 2022
November 2022.

Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Marina Ramos1 July 9, 2020 at 1:44 am
Great information towns of knowledge to share with parents.
Thank you.
user avatar
Kelley Mccarty October 20, 2019 at 2:38 am
The template is great. The different resources really help.
user avatar
Iris December 1, 2017 at 7:21 pm
We shared this LCAP Checklist with our San Ramon Valley PTA Council Legislative Advocacy reps. Thanks!
user avatar
Iris November 11, 2017 at 8:44 pm
Attended my first district-level LCAP meeting last week and used the parent checklist to review the Ed100 lessons to prepare for the meeting. The school district leadership was very impressed with the knowledge I showed and want to know more about Ed100. Yay!
user avatar
vpeterson_2001 April 28, 2015 at 8:13 pm
Hope LCAP truly starts to provide equity to those that need it and that they actually use it, because LCAP is currently hurting some school budgets and we are suffering cuts and program reductions!
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